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The Machine Girl
cast: Minase Yashiro, Asami Sugiura, Kentaro Shimazu, Asami Honoka, and Nobuhiro Nishihara

writer and director: Noboru Iguchi

96 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Cine-Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Richard Bowden
Great fun, The Machine Girl (aka: Kataude mashin gâru) may not deliver in terms of budget, acting or plot quality but what it possesses, and in gory bucketfuls, is over the top violence and blood. Plenty of blood... In fact more blood than a film has right to offer, directed with haemophiliac gusto by Noboru Iguchi. His previous credits include the intriguingly titled A Larva To Love (aka: Koi-suru yôchû, 2003) and presumably its sequel Entrails Of A Larva (aka: Yôchû no harawata, 2004), as well as the slightly better known Sukeban Boy (aka: Oira sukeban, 2006). Iguchi's work may be cheap and cheerful, but rarely unmemorable. The Machine Girl is no exception, even if it is hardly the disc to pop into the player for a romantic evening in.

It begins with a striking pre credit sequence where we first see the vengeful appearance of schoolgirl, Ami Hyuga (Minase Yashiro). The delectable Ami, we are to learn, has been transformed into a machine-gunning killer by the death of her beloved brother Yu, who with a friend was murdered by Sho, the bullying son of a local yakuza leader. Ami's first attack on the Hanzou Hattori clan at home, the said yakuza - who also pride themselves on their ninja heritage - led to the loss of one of her arms. Thereupon taken in by Miki, Yu's mother and her mechanically innovative husband, Ami's stump has been fitted with a powerful weapon.

Those familiar with Planet Terror will immediately recognise the fighting potential of an armed amputee; Machine Girl goes further and eventually provides us with two of them, what with Ami's stump so gainfully employed from the beginning and then Miki's final use of a chainsaw, placed at the end of her recently lopped-off foot. That's during a confrontation at the end of a film full of such bloody engagements. Iguchi relishes outlandish scenes of dismemberment, and Machine Girl is characterised by several episodes of outlandish slicing and dicing. If you have seen Kung Pow, then you will remember the moment a hole is punched through a chest allowing interested and disbelieving parties to peer through. Typically, Machine Girl takes this a stage further, dispenses with the stage disbelief entirely and ends up with a shooting by machine gun poking through the cavity!

It's a film full of snigger out-loud moments - and some memorable lines too: for instance the heroine's "Wash your hair in your son's blood!", or the villainess' "I'm wearing a special bra made of steel!" Springing from an established tradition of martial schoolgirl-types in Japanese cinema (remember Azumi, 2003?), Ami Hyuga is cute but despite her simpering smile she soon gains grudging support from her enemies as she stalks and slashes through their ranks. The Hanzou Hattori are the prime targets, headed up by husband and wife team of the Kimuras. Mrs Kimura is arguably the worst, and dominates her cruel husband. It is Mrs K's 'drill bra' which proves the most remarkable image of the film, its revolving steel cups threatening Ami during the final attack - incidentally during which their close contact adds to the faint air of lesbianism pervading the movie's female relationships.

There are other challenges for Ami and Miki to overcome too: shortly before Ami's metamorphosis into machine-gunning ing´┐Żnue, she and new ally are abruptly confronted by the 'Junior High Shuriken Gang' (red Ninjas), in a dramatic self-introduction which reminded this viewer of the Judean People's Front crack suicide squad from Monty Python's Life Of Brian. Then a little later, having dispatched this aggressive, if youthful band, they find themselves up against the aggrieved parents of same, now armed and grouped in opposition against them as the 'Super Mourner Gang'.

Ami is very aware of the need to protect and avenge her family. After all, as she rather guilelessly reminds her brother early on, "when mum and dad committed suicide because of the murder allegation, remember what we promised?" Although not much more is made of this tragic background (there's an unspoken suggestion that the Kimuras may have been behind the original frame up) it's enough to give her ensuing rampage added significance. Even though, as she rather ironically admits initially, one should consider carefully before taking a life. This calming hesitation is soon lost in the bloody turmoil of events as Ami's determination to avenge matters drives events from one baroque killing to another.

Machine Girl's final message, if it can be taken as that, is against school bullying, and issued here with straight face. Given the mayhem amongst juniors we've just witnessed, one assumes it is meant ironically. Indeed a lot of the film works best with a huge suspension of disbelief and jaundiced humour as we sit back and watch the special effects guys do their business, putting the motivations of the central characters down to the entertaining peculiarities of Japanese popular culture. If there is an old fashioned grindhouse still alive and well in Tokyo, then this would be showing. Ultimately, this is not a cruel film, or even really disturbing, more grotesque and cartoonishly macabre, performed in a way which its target audience will understand entirely. Shot on video, it looks cheap and none of the special effects are first rank. But there's hardly a dull scene in it, even if the dangers of diminishing returns for this sort of display become apparent towards the end. At any rate it's obviously proved a success, for the director has already completed the short Shyness Machine Girl and, perhaps with thoughts still on the appeal of automated mayhem, plans 'Robo-Geisha' next.
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